Addiction is a choice, not a disease… and other myths

Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

“They could really stop if they wanted to. They just don’t want to.”

“He was fine in highschool. We used to have a blast on the weekends. I don’t understand why he thinks his drinking and drugging are such an incurable problem now.”

“She isn’t really an alcoholic.”

You may have heard some of the common misperceptions listed above about addiction. 

Often those closest to the addict are relying on second-hand information gleaned in the annals of the google doctoral lexicons to diagnose someone’s drinking or drugging symptoms. 

Maybe you are the google sleuth working overtime to try and determine if your partner, friend, sibling, or coworker has a problem. 

If you aren’t sure, click the button below to access the quiz provided by the American Addiction Centers. This is the most reliable starting point to determine if someone is or is not an addict. 

Here are some important facts to know about addiction… 

Addiction is a brain disease, it’s not a choice. 

Addiction is controlled in the brain’s reward system. Substances impact this reward system by 

  1. Imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers, and 
  2. Overstimulating the “reward circuit” of the brain 

How do drugs work on the brain? Some drugs, like marijuana and heroin, have chemical structures that mimic a neurotransmitter that naturally occurs in our bodies. Other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, cause nerve cells to release too much dopamine, a natural neurotransmitter, or prevent the normal recycling of dopamine.[1]

Currently, substances are seen as addictivce, but despite using the same control centers in the brain, and setting up the same type of reward systems, “Technology, sex, and work addictions are not recognized as addictions by the American Psychiatric Association in their most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. [2]

For more information on how addiction impacts the brain, please watch this YouTube video

The stigma that comes as a result of believing addiction is a choice 


Despite decades of clinical research demonstrating the neurological, psychological, and physiological impacts of addiction, many people still believe that addiction is a choice. Some say addiction is the result of weak moral character or their addiction is the result of a moral failing. 


One’s character and morals have no relevance on whether or not someone becomes an addict. Further, the shame and guilt an addict feels over their inability to cease the addiction behaviors are greater than for any other illness primarily because many in society continue to believe addiction is within the control of the addict[3].

Tom Hill with the National Council for Mental Well Being says:

It is difficult to have compassion for people when presumed poor character is confused with the disease characteristics that undermine it. This is manifested in a prevailing attitude that labels people and withholds help to “bad people who are undeserving.” Compounding this is the common belief that people choose to become addicted, based on weakness, lack of will power and poor judgment. Again, looking beyond myth, science informs us that there is a genetic predisposition for addiction, as well as a range of environmental factors, especially those that occur in early childhood.[4]

If you believe you or someone you love has a substance abuse problem and you need help answering questions, our counselors are standing by. 

(760) 459-5575



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